Mark Herring is a Democratic candidate for Virginia Attorney General. His name will appear on the ballot on Nov. 2.
Name: Mark Herring
Race: Attorney General
Biography: Attorney General Mark Herring is fighting every day for justice, equality, and opportunity for ALL Virginians. Mark has won huge victories in court for LGBT Virginians, for DREAMers, immigrants, and new Virginians, and for the right of all Virginians to live, worship, and raise their families free from hate and discrimination.
When President Donald Trump abandoned the defense of Obamacare in court, Mark stepped in to protect coverage for preexisting conditions and to keep healthcare affordable and accessible for Virginians. He has also sued to block efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and limit women’s access to reproductive healthcare, and he led a multimillion dollar, multiyear project completed in July 2020 to completely eliminate Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits.
Mark and his wife, Laura, have been married for 30 years and have two children, daughter Peyton, 28, and son Tim, 25.
Why should Virginians re-elect you as Attorney General?
I am asking for Virginians to again support me as Attorney General because I believe that the Office of the Attorney General and the law can be a tool to take on powerful special interests and protect equal rights and opportunities for all Virginians, and I’ve been fighting for justice, equality, and opportunity for all Virginians since I first took office.
I broke the stranglehold that Republicans had on this job and this office, and I totally transformed it into a progressive powerhouse. I went into court and fought for marriage equality and won, made sure DREAMers could get an equal education in Virginia, led on criminal justice reform, created the first-ever Civil Rights Office in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, won landmark lawsuits to remove symbols of confederate propaganda, and led the first ever investigation into racial bias in a Virginia, school system, and I eliminated Virginia’s rape kit backlog, something only six states have been able to do.
So much of the work in the last few years has been about protecting the very democracy our country was founded on, and fighting back against the Trump agenda. I sued Trump over his un-American Muslim ban and won, sued to protect DACA and won, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the Affordable Care Act not once, but twice, and fought in court to protect reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose. We have to keep this progress in Virginia going.
My priorities for my next term can be put into three buckets: Racial justice and policing reform, health, safety and wellbeing, and workers’ rights.
Racial Justice and Policing Reform
Our new Office of Civil Rights will allow us to more forcefully fight discrimination in housing, employment, and public life. I worked at the federal level to enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices, and I plan to take full advantage of that new tool.
I will be fighting for full marijuana legalization and easier pathways to record expungement. I just completed the first ever investigation into systemic racism in a Virginia public school system, and plan to use the system we have created to investigate and settle cases of racial discrimination in other large scale systems, such as our healthcare systems. I will continue to lead on ensuring we implement 21st century policing training, a project we began in Virginia in 2015.
Health, Safety, and Wellbeing
We have to successfully defend new legal challenges to new progressive laws, like the Virginia Values Act, and gun safety measures like “One Gun A Month,” the red flag law, and expanded background checks. We need to “Ban the Box” for housing, and ensure fair housing for Virginians experiencing re-entry. After years of success implementing our “lethality assessment” training for local law enforcement officers to better protect and serve survivors of domestic violence, I would like to make this training mandatory. I’ll keep fighting to reach conclusions in our years-long battle to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid epidemic.
My just-announced Worker Protection Unit represents a new chapter in the fight to make Virginia a fair place for workers to live and raise their families. This unit is a brand new gathering of resources that will focus on investigating, stopping, and prosecuting exploitation of Virginia workers, including wage theft and worker misclassification, which cheat workers out of pay and the Commonwealth out of revenue. The unit will also work to educate Virginia workers on their rights under Virginia and federal law. By reassigning resources and convening the expertise of a dedicated criminal prosecutor to investigate claims and build cases, together, we can help end worker exploitation in Virginia.
We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to make it through and recover from the worst health crisis in a century. There are a lot of people who are hurting. I’m asking again for the voters’ support as Attorney General, as the people’s lawyer, protecting and expanding the rights of all Virginians.
What do you hope to accomplish, if re-elected?
I’m very excited about establishing the Office of Civil Rights, which will enhance my ability to protect Virginians from discrimination in housing, employment, and public life, as well as allow us to tackle new responsibilities, like “pattern and practice” investigations that can root out and end unconstitutional policing and enforcing new protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians.
I recently announced the creation of our new Worker Protection Unit, a historic massing of resources that will focus on investigating, stopping, and prosecuting exploitation of Virginia workers, including wage theft and worker misclassification, which cheats workers out of pay and the Commonwealth out of revenue.
In February, my office announced the results of our first-ever investigation into racial discrimination in a Virginia public school system. The agreement we secured with Loudoun County Public Schools directs Loudoun schools to invest in outreach among minority communities in Loudoun, submit to monitoring by the Attorney General’s Office, and generally promote equitable access to education. This was the first investigation of its kind in Virginia, and in my next term I hope we can take what we did here and apply it to other powerful systems within the Commonwealth.
As Attorney General, I hope to keep building upon the progress we have made in partnership with Virginians over the last eight years, and I’m especially excited to focus on expanding access to healthcare, criminal justice and policing reform, defending Virginia’s gun violence prevention laws, fair housing, protecting our environment, and eliminating hate and white supremacy in all of its dangerous forms.
What is the most important legal issue facing Virginians, and how would you tackle that issue?
I have been sounding the alarm and doing everything in my power to address the alarming increase in white nationalism and white supremacy in our country, and I really do believe it is the most dangerous threat and most pressing legal issue that Virginians face today.
The Jan. 6 attack on our Capitol was an affront to our democracy and the very foundations of our country, fueled by baseless conspiracy theories and lies and rooted in white supremacy and antisemitism. Those who participated in the events of that day must be held accountable, but we have to root out the hate, and fear, and violent beliefs that that day was grounded in so that we can really come together and address all of the other issues we are facing as a Commonwealth and as a county.
In my term as Attorney General, I have successfully championed legislation to reduce hate crimes and white-supremacist violence because he knows these ideas strike at the heart of communities and try to force entire groups of Virginians to live in fear and remove themselves from public life, or compromise their identity. It is so important to make sure that communities around Virginia who are feeling vulnerable know that their state and their elected officials stand with them, ready to protect their families and their fundamental rights.
What areas of consumer protection would you focus on, if re-elected?
I am incredibly proud of the work my Consumer Protection Section has done and continues to do to return millions of dollars Virginia consumers have lost to shady debt collectors, predatory lenders, and other bad actors who try to skirt the law. As Attorney General, a top priority of mine will always be to ensure that Virginia consumers have all the information and tools they need to make smart decisions and protect themselves.
Last year, I worked directly with the Virginia General Assembly and testified in committee in support of comprehensive predatory lending reforms, and I made sure those reforms went into effect six month before they would have. These reforms tighten the rules on exploitative predatory lenders and close easily-abused loopholes so that Virginia borrowers are afforded protections regardless of the type of loan they seek. The legislation also gave my Predatory Lending Unit more tools to enforce these new protections and better combat predatory lenders operating in the Commonwealth.
Since 2014, my Consumer Protection Section has recovered approximately $356 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators. The section has also transferred more than $59 million to the Commonwealth’s General Fund. Following a major reorganization and enhancement in 2016, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Section has been even more effective in fighting for the rights of Virginians.
I sued the Trump Administration and Secretary Betsy DeVos for abandoning critical federal protections for student borrowers and taxpayers. Secretary DeVos had abruptly rescinded the Borrower Defense Rule, which was designed to provide relief for student borrowers and hold abusive higher education institutions accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans.
I’ve aggressively held those responsible for the public health crisis of the opioid epidemic accountable. No company should be profiting from the addiction and pain of so many families, and knowingly marketing deadly drugs to those who need our help most. We’ve secured massive settlements from these companies, which will go into health, education, and enforcement programming to help us help those struggling from addiction.
If re-elected, we will continue our efforts to protect and defend the rights of all Virginia consumers, including student borrowers, veterans, and victims of COVID-related fraud and abuses.
What is the most important legal issue that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and how would you address it?
The COVID-19 crisis has really shown a spotlight on pre-existing inequities in Virginia. Childcare, affordable health insurance, worker protections and secure access to housing and education are disproportionately inaccessible to Virginians who may be lower income, or immigrants, or people of color, and these disparities have exacerbated the COVID health crisis in communities throughout the Commonwealth.
I have spent much of this year advocating for extended Cares Act protections, including eviction moratoriums for properties that participate in federal assistance programs, Paycheck Protection Program loan accessibility, childcare stipends, and additional tax credits for Virginia families. We successfully had the State Corporation Commission put a freeze on utility disconnections throughout the pandemic. I’ll continue to work with our federal and state leaders so that our communities have access to the protections that we’ve fought for.
I would like to see Virginians receive financial survival checks. I’ve joined my fellow Democratic Attorney Generals in calling on President Joe Biden to forgive up to $50,000 of student loan debt. I will continue to advocate for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus and make sure they get quick access to the vaccine. We have an obligation to ensure Virginians are safe and able to remain in their homes throughout the ongoing pandemic, and after that as well.